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UMass Hockey Mid-Season Review: Historically Bad

Winter break is upon us.  The Massachusetts hockey team has played 16 games so far this season and after Christmas will play the remaining 17 before heading to the Hockey East playoffs.  The good news is the team has already clinched a post-season spot.  The bad news is the season so far has been bad.  Real bad.  Historically bad.  I know I keep using the historically bad description recently in posts, but that’s really all that keeps popping up in my thoughts.  The team has been more than bad.  It’s been more than really bad.  Historically bad is really the most fitting term I can find, though I would bet a lot of UMass fans would also say the season has also been embarrassingly bad.

Before we get into just how and why they’ve been bad, let’s back up a few months and understand expectations heading into this season.  I don’t think anyone expected this to be a dominant team in Hockey East.  I think fans were understanding that the team lost a lot of offense when guys like Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary graduated.  People knew that a 10 player freshman class would likely mean some growing pains.  Most Mullins faithful were even understanding to lower expectations when the jewel of the recruiting class, NHL draft pick Brandon Montour, ended up having to spend another semester in juniors to straight out NCAA clearinghouse issues.  Followers around the program just wanted to see progress.  Everyone had heard a lot about what would happen when John Micheletto had a roster full of his players that would allow him to play the up tempo system he’s wanted and that players recruited by Toot Cahoon, while talented, were not really allowing him to do so.  After winning just 12 and 8 games in his first couple seasons I think fans would’ve been happy to see UMass improve to 15 wins this season and at least get close to playing .500 hockey.

Instead the team has gone just 4-12-0 in the first half of the season, making any thoughts of .500 play a pipe dream.  Only one of those wins has come in conference and the team finds itself in last place in Hockey East, very unlikely to finish higher than 10th at best.  While the record itself is very concerning, the fact is the team’s play has been downright appalling at times.  There are statistical thresholds that this program has not seen in decades that they are now surpassing.  Obviously the main issue has been the inability to keep opponents from scoring.  UMass is giving up an astounding 4.69 goals per game, by far the worst defense in the country.  Next worse is Colorado College at 4.13 GPG and the closest among Hockey East teams is Maine at 3.72, nearly a full goal better than the Minutemen.  Last year the worst defensive team in the country was UAH with 4.37.  The 4.69 goals allowed per game is even worse than UMass’ very first year in Division I and Hockey East.  That team, which went 5-19-3 ONLY gave up 4.61 goals per game.  That team, thought they worked extremely hard, had a fraction of talent of this UMass team.

I could go on and on about all these mind-boggling statistics showing just how bad this team has been, but in the end it really just comes down tot 4.69 goals allowed per game.  This team is horrendous on defense.  They’ve played decent defensively at times, the series against Quinnipiac being probably the best example.  And they’ll play OK during stretches in games.  But all it takes it a couple odd man rushes, some laziness and distraction by the UMass players, and suddenly the opposing team has put five goals on the board in the matter of minutes.  I’ve never seen a team so bad at playing defense.  And, it’s been a total team effort.  Defensemen and forwards alike have been guilty of defensive breakdowns that lead to way too many quality chances by opponents.  Amazing, given the numbers, I’ve found it hard to put most of the blame on the goaltending of Henry Dill and Steve Mastalerz  during this first half.  Opposing teams are getting such great looks at the net, allowed to fire away from the slot or closer, that it’s tough to really gauge what saves the goaltenders should be making if any.

Ultimately the defensive problems come from Mick’s up tempo, offense first “system”.  Well, to be perfectly frank, I think the system sucks and is probably not viable in Hockey East.  In the prior two years, when the roster was still dominated by players from the last regime, the defense was not great but ok, giving up 3.00 and 3.12 goals per game.  This season that number ballooned to astronomical portions.  It has to change.  Major adjustments have to be made to the team’s strategy for the second half of the season.  Early on when the team struggled I think it made sense to preach patience given the large number of freshman that were trying to get acclimated.  That’s not the case anymore.  It has been 16 games and the team looked just as inept defensively Tuesday in the 8-3 loss to Northeastern as they did during the 8-1 loss to Boston University in the season opener.  Whatever Micheletto thinks he’s doing isn’t working defensively.  It has to change.  The goaltenders at times have shown that they are capable Hockey East goaltenders when given a chance.  But they cannot be successful against an insane number of odd man rushes or opposing players allowed to tee off two feet away from the slot.  Mick needs to change his ways, they’re not working.  They’re not producing results and are definitely losing fans and perhaps resulting in him losing some of his team.

Offensively, the team has been alright.  In all the season previews in September and October fans and the media wondered how they’d ever replace all that goal scoring that graduated last year.  Well, they’ve been just fine finding the back of the net.  So far this season they’re scoring 2.69 goals per game, 6th best among Hockey East teams.  That’s a big step up from last year when they scored 2.24 goals per game, second worst among Hockey East teams.  Yes, guys like Pereira, Sheary, and Branden Gracel were all talented players.  But, the team has made up for it with a legitimate Hockey East star in Frank Vatrano, who has scored 9 goals in the team’s last 10 games.  The duo of Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi are both building off of excellent freshman seasons last year and are by far the most consistent producers on the team.  Freshman Dennis Kravchenko and Patrick Lee have both made solid contributions on offsense so far, though Kravchenko has cooled off considerably in recent weeks and will be needed to get back on track in the second half.  Seniors Troy Power and Zack LaRue have come up with key points during the season as well.  This team has a lot of promise offensively and the goal scoring is something that should only get better with the addition of Montour.  But it’s all for naught if they continue to give up five goals a game.

It’s pretty evident from the comments on this blog, message boards, social media, not to mention actual Mullins attendance that the fans are quickly running out of patience with Micheletto.  Again, I don’t think expectations were through the roof this year, but it’s quite clear that the fans expect for the program to avoid becoming a laughing stock in the college hockey world.  But unfortunately that’s just what they’ve become through the first half of this season.  Micheletto hasn’t done himself any favors by not engaging more with the fans and surrounding community.  Maybe if he was more communicative with his vision for UMass hockey from the get go fans would be more patient, although I’m not sure the most extroverted coach could’ve prepared the fans for what has transpired this year.  Nonetheless, Mick has instead been standoffish and quietly gone about his work without prioritizing getting in front of the UMass fans (the last Meet and Greet even was December 2012). And I think this has really hurt him.  Without a personal connection to the coach fans only know Mick as the guy behind the bench leading the team to 8-3 losses.  Honestly, it’s probably too late for any kind of outreach effort from him so in the end it’s only going to be wins and losses that matter to the majority of fans.

I’ve said all along that Micheletto probably deserves four years to get this program winning, especially since he walked into a challenging situation based on the lateness of his hiring and the unbalanced recruiting classes ahead of him.  But I did not in my wildest dreams expect a single Hockey East win through the first half of the season and 75 goals allowed in 16 games.  Attendance is plummeting to all time lows, Pond Club events are sparsely attended, and general interest in the program is dwindling.  The “wait ‘til next year” mantra was fair in the first couple seasons, but that’s over.  It’s year 3, it’s time to start winning.  It’s all in Mick’s hands.  His players, his staff, his responsibility.  Maybe the hole is too deep and there’s not much to play for this season, but at the very least he has to do what’s necessary to get this program winning and at least show some evidence that he’s capable of getting it back on track.  Maybe wholesale success doesn’t happen until next year, but first he needs to show the program can at least be respectable and can be a point of pride for the university.

UMass hockey players have a history of getting involved in community related activities after they leave Amherst.  Recent examples include Peter Trovato’s Massachusetts Solidiers Legacy Fund and Scott Crowder creating the Pond Hockey Classic.  Anthony Raiola who graduated last year is the latest former Minutemen to take on civic minded activities as part BOKS:

Anthony Raiola ‘14 has made the transition from the hockey rink to the corporate world joining BOKS, Build Our Kids’ Success, an initiative of the Reebok Foundation. A Former collegiate athlete who experienced daily fitness in his formative years growing up in Minnesota and one who continues to work out daily knowing the importance of physical activity, Raiola is concerned that kids across the globe are not moving as much as prior generations. Inspired by BOKS Founder, Kathleen Tullie, Raiola sensed an opportunity to bring awareness and fundraising to the cause of BOKS and connected BOKS, Reebok Hockey and the NHL to collaborate on a special promotion in association with the marquee 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic ®

Learn more about BOKS and the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic promotion here.

I heard a lot of great things about Raiola in terms of his character when he was part of the UMass team so it’s not a big surprise to see him involved in such a worthy cause right out of the gates after leaving school.

Anthony with BOKS class

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Recap: UMass Drops 8-3 Decision To Northeastern To Close Out Disastrous First Half

I’m not going to get into too much detail in breaking down last night’s 8-3 defeat at the hands of Northeastern.  If you saw the 8-1 loss to BU on opening night, or 11-1 shellacking by Vermont, or Notre Dame’s 7-5 victory a couple weekends ago then you saw last night as well.  The only major difference was the string of goals that the Minutemen gave up putting the game out of reach happened right from the first faceoff rather than the accustomed time later in the game.

Indeed three goals in the first 10 minutes put the Huskies in the driver’s seat in this game and they never looked back.  Those three goals came on just four shots and that ended the night early for freshman goaltender Henry Dill who had previously had 42 saves against this Northeastern team in October.  As has been the case all season, it’s tough to really put any blame on Dill for the goals allowed, or on Steve Mastalerz who gave up five goals in relief, because the defense in front of them played so poorly.  The number of quality chances given up by this team is staggering.  All in all 1/3rd of all of Northeastern’s shots on the night went into the net.  33%.

Here are some other numbers that will cause your mouth to gape in disbelief.  Coming into the game Northeastern had scored 10 power play goals in 63 chances on the season, converting with the extra man at a rate of 15.9%.  Last night they scored five power play goals on nine chances.  1/3rd of their power play goals on the season were accumulated just last night alone.  What’s really amazing is those five goals came on just six shots on the power play.  UMass wore out a path to the penalty box, taking nine total, one third of those coming from Mike Busillo.

The result spoiled the debut of Brandon Montour, who is now eligible after sitting out the first semester due to clearinghouse issues.  I would say Montour looked OK last night.  Obviously it would’ve been a lot to ask for him to be a difference maker after a whole two practices with his new team.  But overall he had his ups and downs.  He seems to have a very quick release to his shot.  He made a nice backcheck play at one point disrupting a Northeastern odd man rush.  He did play a major role in what was probably the deciding moment of the game, but not in a good way.  I admittedly didn’t see it, but Montour was whistled for unsportsmanlike for shooting the puck after the whistle sounded to end the first period (more on that later).  The penalty nullified a UMass power play that was going to carry over into the second period and at the tail end of the penalty Kevin Roy scored to give the Huskies a 4-0 lead.  It was all over at that point, just 22 minutes into the game.

This was a fitting end to the first half of the season.  All the problems we’ve seen so far on the year such as the porous defense, sub par goaltending, poor special teams, too many trips to the box, bench penalties, all took place in this one game.  I’ll have a mid-season review of the season in the next day or so, but if you want to know how the season has been so far, last night was a pretty good example.  Horrendous defense and disinterested players.  That’s been UMass’ season so far.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Frank Vatrano
Vatrano continues to be the lone bright spot lately, scoring two goals last night.  He’s now third in Hockey East for goals scored with 9.

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

Earlier in the season I wrote that it was disappointing to see so little coverage of the team.  I guess you have to be careful what you wish for because there was a full media contingent at last night’s latest UMass hockey debacle.

John Connolly covered the game for the Boston Herald.

Dan Malone of Masslive had a game recap and another piece focusing in on Montour.  He also has this story titled “Micheletto Ready To Move Past Disappointing First Half Of Season.”  Although very few specifics on what changes he plans to make to get UMass winning again.

Matt Vautour has his recap for the Gazette.

The Collegian has their game recap as well as a piece on Montour’s debut.

And finally USCHO has their game story.

Aside from another blowout loss, the other big news today was that UMass picked up a commitment from defenseman Ivan Chukarov from the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL.  The 6’3”, 200lb Illinois native has six goals and 12 assists in 23 games and was recently named a NAHL Star of the Week.  He appears to be another offensively minded defenseman, much like we’ve seen recently, though one with some pretty good size.  Combined with the recent commitment of goaltender Nic Renyard, the coaching staff has now addressed a couple of the major needs for next year’s class.  I’ll have more on Chukarov in an upcoming recruit update post.

Joe Bertagna was interviewed last night in between periods by the UMass radio crew.  I guess the headline from the interview is that a UMass-UConn game at Fenway is likely in the works for next season.  However my favorite part is when Brock Hines points out during the interview that the officials are at that very moment using replay to call the unsportsmanlike penalty on Montour, something not allowed under current rules.  Don’t worry, Bertagna says he’ll get to the bottom of it.  Yeah, sure he will.  Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me.  Hockey East continues to have awful officiating and, though they didn’t factor into last night’s outcome, the crew last night was particularly awful.  But what do you expect when you hire officials like Curtis Marouelli, one of last night’s referees, who is already widely known for his blown calls in the ECHL.

The Minutemen and some of their historically bad statistics on the season were a major part of Puck Daddy’s weekly NCAA hockey update.

Again, Mid-Season Review coming up soon on FTT so keep checking back.  The players are back home but I’m not going on break.

Preview: Montour To Debut As Minutemen Take On Northeastern In Non-Conference Clash

Northeastern Huskies 4-10-1 (3-6-1) Hockey East 8th

at

Massachusetts Minutemen 4-11-0 (1-9-0) Hockey East 12th

It’s gut check time.  I think it’s fair to say this first half of the season has been disappointing for everyone around the Massachusetts hockey program.  Just four wins and last place in Hockey East is not where fans, coaches, or players had hoped to see the team at this point.  Tomorrow’s non-conference game against Northeastern is a big opportunity for UMass to at least take some positive momentum into the winter break.  They’ll have to find the motivation and energy from within though, because Tuesdays in December after the students are gone don’t tend to produce good Mullins crowds.  Add in the team’s record and it will likely be a sparsely attended affair.  It’s up to the players to find whatever motivates them, be it pride, a hatred of losing, or whatever, and bring that with them onto the ice tomorrow.

It should help that UMass already knows they’re capable of beating this Husky team.  They did so back in October in what was probably Henry Dill’s best game of the season.  In just his second collegiate start the freshman made 42 saves in the 3-2 win.  The guys in front of him played pretty well too, clearing rebounds away from the crease and helping shutout the Northeastern power play over 7 attempts.  The game saw both teams trade two goals apiece in the first 16 minutes of play before Dill and unexpected Husky starter Derek Roy took over.  The game winner was eventually scored in the third by Emerson Auvenshine who was making his blueline debut for the defensively depleted Minutemen.  Zack LaRue also shined offensively with a goal and an assist in the game.

The defeat at the hands of the Minutemen brought Northeastern’s record to 0-4-0 at that time.  They would eventually get to 0-8-1 before finally picking up their first win against New Hampshire in mid-November.  Since that time they’ve been downright respectable, going 4-2-0 in their last six with wins over #3 Minnesota at home and #16 Providence on the road.  It’s been very much a team effort over that six game period, with 11 different Huskies scoring a goal.  Kevin Roy and Colton Saucerman have scored two apiece during that time.

They’ve mostly gone as their defense and goaltender Clay Witt have gone during that stretch however.  In their four recent wins they’ve given up just five goals total.  But in their two losses, to Merrimack and Providence, Witt and the team have given up nine goals.  It’s likely that tomorrow night the Minutemen will face Witt, who was hurt when they visited St Botolph Street earlier this season.  Playing the Huskies is a good chance for the Minutemen to try to get their offense back on track.  Northeastern is 10th among Hockey East teams in goals against with 3.27 and their penalty kill is dead last at 72.5%.  Even in Northeastern’s recent six game stretch where they’ve been winning their PK is still just 74.1%.  The Minutemen’s offense has sputtered since their last win against AIC in mid-November.  In the 7 games since then they’ve scored just two goals per game and their power play is only converting at a rate of 10.7% (3 for 28).

It’s not just playing a poor defensive team that could give UMass an offensive spark tomorrow night.  It could potentially be the new guy wearing #26 in maroon.  Brandon Montour will make his long awaited debut for the Minutemen after being academically ineligible for the first semester.  The reigning USHL Player of the Year and 2nd Round NHL Draft pick had 6 goals and 15 assists in 17 games for the Waterloo Blackhawks while sorting out his NCAA clearinghouse issues.  Will Montour solve all of the Minutemen’s problems?  No way.  Especially considering he’s more of an offensive defenseman and the issues that have plagued UMass so far on the season have been overwhelming on the defensive end.  Still, his addition to the team may give the players and coaches an opportunity to mentally reset and refocus on games to come with a new weapon in the lineup rather than worry what transpired in November or before.

We shouldn’t forget the players already here either.  Frank Vatrano will look to start another goal streak tomorrow.  His team leading seven goals have all been scored in a couple two and three game bunches, the last of which expired with Notre Dame’s shutout last weekend.  All in all he’s accounted for 6 of UMass’ 21 goals from the AIC game onward and has been by far the team’s best player during that time.  Hopefully the week and a half between games will allow sophomore Ray Pigozzi to recover from an upper body injury as he has six points (1 G, 5 A) in his last six games played and his presence was missed against the Irish.

In net I expect you’ll see Coach Micheletto give Dill another crack at the Huskies after his strong showing at Matthews earlier in the season.  It’s still been tough to get a good gauge on the goaltending this season only because the defense in front of Dill and Steve Mastalerz has had so many problems.  Despite giving up four and a half goals a game there hasn’t been a lot of nights where it felt like the game was lost by whomever got the start in the crease.  Dill has played well at times all things considered and it’ll be interesting to see what happens if he gets another shot at a team he saw earlier in the season.  Again, Montour wasn’t brought to Amherst for his defense.  But, I don’t think he could make things any worse on that end.

I think it’s safe to say that UMass fans are desperate for anything resembling hope at this point.  A win, albeit a non-conference one despite the familiar league foe, tomorrow would be the first step to fans regaining confidence in the team and perhaps a chance for the team to regain some confidence in themselves.  Add in the energy around getting to see a much heralded player for the first time and hopefully the team will be able to feed off the buzz around the game, even if the energy in the building itself is minimal.  I’m sure the holidays for all parties involved would be that much more enjoyable if the team went into winter break with a win.  A victory seems a worthy addition to everyone’s Christmas list.

Beer The Triangle

Dear Santa,

In my last few trips to the Hangar for pregaming I couldn’t help but notice the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin on the “Coming Soon…” list.  I think I’ve been good a UMass fan this year, making it to all the home games, and have done my best to watch my language when I have my daughter on my lap even when the officiating as been awful (who’s kidding, it’s always awful).  Is there any way this beer could find its way onto Stoney’s taps in time for tomorrow afternoon?  I would appreciate it greatly and promise to leave Left Hand Milk Stout and cookies for you on Christmas Eve.

P.S.  Could you also be generous enough to also make our Athletic Director’s Christmas wish come true so that he finds plane tickets to the West Coast in his stocking this holiday?

P.P.S  If the Grapefruit Scuplin is a no-go, how about the Stone Enjoy By 12.26.14?  Tis the season!

Game Preview From UMass Athletics.

Matt Vautour talks about Montour’s debut in his preview in the Gazette.

Yesterday I wrote about the commitment of goaltender Nic Renyard to UMass.  Here’s a scouting report from Over The Boards from last Spring stating that Renyard has “quick feet and post to post movement, as well as some decent puck handling skills.”  That link also has some very good things to say about Kurt Keats who will join the Minutemen next fall as well.  The local Okotoks Western Wheel also has this story about Renyard’s commitment with some quotes from him about his choice.

Abbreviated Polls & Awards tonight.

Boston University is again the #1 team in the country after previous top ranked North Dakota split at Denver.

New Hampshire’s Grayson Downing is the Hockey East Player of the Week after his four point performance in a win against Maine on Saturday.

AJHL Goalie Nic Renyard Commits To the Minutemen For 2015

The Massachusetts hockey program has picked up a commitment from goaltender Nic Renyard of the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.  Renyard has been one of the best netminders in the AJHL this season with a league best 19-3-1 record to go with a save percentage of .934 and goals against average of 1.86, both second best in the league.  Renyard was the October Player of the Month for the AJHL (UMass commit Austin Plevy playing for Brooks was the POTM for November).  Renyard will fill the roster spot of graduating senior Steve Mastalerz and join Henry Dill and Alex Wakaluk on the goaltending crew next season.

It has been an interesting year for the 5’11, 170lb goaltender from Victoria, BC.  At the beginning of the season he was released his hometown Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL who wanted to prioritize playing time for their younger goaltenders.  He joined the Oilers and has been a big factor in their 24-9-3 record this year, 3rd best in the South Division just behind the Brook Bandits who have three future Minutemen on their roster (Plevy, Shane Bear, Kyler Nachtigall).  The Oilers literally picked him up for nothing and he’s been one of the best netminders in the league in return.

Renyard had a solid year in net last year for Victoria, with a .911 save percentage and 2.71 GAA.  The prior year he played for Penticton, also of the BCHL, and split time in net with Chad Kautner, who now plays for Notre Dame and picked up the win last Friday against UMass.  The duo picwon the Forslund Trophy in 2012-13 for best combined GAA in the BCHL.  Renyard had a .919 save percentage that year and 2.24 GAA.

This seems like a solid pickup for Coach Micheletto and his staff for next year.  Renyard is likely one of the best uncommitted goaltenders still available for next season.  Hopefully he’ll have as much success as the last goaltender who went from the AJHL to the Mullins Center.  Former Minuteman Paul Dainton went 13-6-4 with a .916 save percentage and 2.42 GAA for Fort McMurray of the AJHL in 2006-07.

Here’s an article from when Renyard signed with the Oilers, stating one of the reasons for the move was so he could, “…be a starter as a 20-year-old this year so I was waiting, looking for a program I know could win a championship and could get me a scholarship and move onto the NCAA next year.”

The Calgary Sun has this article on Renyard’s role in the Oilers early success this season.  The Okotoks local news website has a similar story.

Here’s a nice display from Renyard last year:

Here are some other odds and ends.

Captain Troy Power has a new post of from his season long blog.

The hockey office also has an updated Minutemen in the Pros release.

The Republican/Masslive has this excellent profile on Amherst native and UMass commit John Leonard on the eve of kicking off his season with Springfield Cathedral.

2015 Recruiting Class: Haves, Needs, and Wants

As mentioned in yesterday’s weekly recruit update tonight’s piece is going to take an in-depth look at next year’s incoming recruiting class in terms of commits and needs.  It makes sense to take a look now since the early signing period just occurred last month, so we know a little more about who is most likely to be coming in next year.  It also gave an opportunity to see if any unexpected names popped up during that time.  In coincidental timing, Jeff Cox of SBN College Hockey put out his rankings of next year’s recruiting classes.  UMass was dead last in Hockey East.

While I definitely have more than just a passing interest in college hockey recruiting, I haven’t studied the other Hockey East schools enough to know how they all shake out comparatively.  But I do understand why Coach Micheletto’s crop for next year is ranked so low by Jeff.  It’s not so much about the quality of players who have committed but more to do with having a lot more work to do to fill the holes that exist on the team next year.

Departures

Before looking at those players who will be joining the team next year it’s probably important to know who the team will need to replace.  There will be seven players honored on senior night in February.  At forward there is Troy Power, Steven Guzzo, Emerson Auvenshine, and Zack LaRue.  On defense there’s Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo.  And then also graduating will be goaltender Steve Mastalerz.

At forward you have four very similar players.  None are truly prolific scorers.  Power is currently tied for 5th on the team with 8 points while LaRue is just behind him at 7.  LaRue does have a career high four goals on the season, though has been kept off the scoreboard in the last seven games.  Guzzo has three assists on the season.  Auvenshine, who has put in time at both his natural forward position and defense, has just one point on the season, but as the game winning goal at Northeastern it was a big point.

So overall it does not appear that the team will be losing a lot of scoring next year.  However in Power, LaRue, and Auvenshine they’ll be losing some size and toughness.  Add in the scrappy Guzzo and all four are fairly decent defensive forwards.  Guzzo has also done quite well in limited action in the faceoff circle.

At defense the team will lose their two best defensive defensemen.  Oleg has improved his game dramatically over the years, especially in terms of his skating, and is going to be tough to replace.  Though you may find another solid defensemen to take his spot, it is very unlikely you’ll find someone with such intimidating size.  In Busillo the team will need to replace a very reliable blueliner.  Not overly flashy or athletic, Busillo has been very consistent over the years.  Playing on teams where it seems you never know if they’ll play terrific or terrible from one night to another, Busillo’s play through his career has been unheralded and a steady influence.

Mastalerz has given UMass solid minutes through his years and even a few headline wins as well.  Last year was the only year where he was the true #1 starter, but he has always been counted on for decent performances, though maybe not as consistently as he and the coaching staffs would’ve liked.  Still, he’s been a capable Hockey East goaltender and one that will definitely need to be replaced.

Arrivals

Sometimes it’s tough to know the exact make up of a class because coaches may decide to delay or accelerate certain players based on their junior performance or specific roster needs.  At forward UMass hockey fans can definitely count on seeing centers Austin Plevy and Kurt Keats however.  Plevy was originally slated to suit up at Merrimack for this current season, but found it to be a bad fit and returned to juniors for a year.  He is currently tearing up the AJHL in Alberta where he leads the league in points (51) and is 3rd in goals (20).  He was the AJHL Player of the Month for November.  Keats meanwhile is putting in a similar performance in the BCHL, where he’s 2nd in goals (22) and 5th in points (38).  Just today he was named to the Team Canada West squad which will participate in the World Junior A Challenge next week.  Both of these players will only add to a Minuteman squad that is trending upward in terms of offense, currently 6th among Hockey East in goals per game after finishing 10th last year.

Defenseman Brandon Egli is supposed to arrive in Amherst next fall as well.  The 5’10”, 190lb Egli signed his National Letter of Intent last November.  He had a big offensive year last season while playing for Victoria of the BCHL, accumulating 11 goals and 24 assists 53 games.  Early on during this season though he was traded from Victoria to Vernon and has had a tough time finding regaining his scoring touch after the move.  Through 20 games he’s only had five assists and has not found the back of the net.  Important to note that it’s always tough to truly know how good a player is defensively while looking only at stats.  Based on last year’s performance he does look like more of an offensive oriented defenseman in the mold of the blueliners in the last couple classes.

After Egli things get a little cloudy.  According to Chris Heisenberg, who runs the bible of college hockey recruiting sites, defenseman Jake McCarthy is a possible 2015 commit as well.  The problem is McCarthy has yet to play this season after getting injured during training camp out in the BCHL.  When he gets healthy again he’s due to start playing for the South Shore Kings of the USPHL, but that hasn’t happened yet.  With him continuing to miss time you start to wonder if the staff would push him back a year.

As a ‘96 birth year Mick may end up accelerating left wing Kyler Nachtigall to next fall, though Heisenberg currently lists him as arriving in 2016.  Nachtigall is teammates with Plevy on the Brooks Bandits (same junior team as current Minutemen Patrick Lee and Maddison Smiley) where he has 9 goals and 7 assists in 32 games.  Last season for the Bandits he had 12 goals and 18 assists in 50 games.

Needs

So that’s it in terms of committed players that are, or may be, coming next fall.  If we go by Heisenberg’s site the team has two forwards (Plevy, Keats) to fill the four open slots.  One defenseman (Egli) and maybe one more (McCarthy) to replace the two defenseman lost.  And the most concerning gap in next year’s class is that the coaches have yet to secure a commitment goaltender to replace Mastalerz.

To be perfectly honest, Micheletto’s fate with the Massachusetts hockey program may depend on the abilities of the goaltender he brings to Amherst next fall.  Obviously the glaring deficiency with this year’s team has been its defense and its goaltending.  I don’t want to knock Mastalerz and Henry Dill for their performance so far, especially Dill who has surpassed my expectations at times.  But sometimes I wonder if the defense is what it is and it’s really the goaltender that will shoulder the load under this style of play.  Therefore it is imperative to have not a good goaltender, not a great goaltender, but a truly elite goaltender in net.  UMass hasn’t had that in recent years, though the staff has definitely done their best to bring a top notch goaltender to Amherst.  I heard rumors that they were aggressively pursuing Zach Naglevoort, but he ultimately chose Michigan where he had a .929 save percentage as a freshman last season for the Wolverines.  At the very least Dill will need competition to push him next year.  At worst UMass will need a Jon Quick type of performance to lessen the problems on defense and have the improved offense translate into wins.

It will be interesting to see what type of player fills the second defenseman spot that is open.  Do we see another Brandon Montour or Jake Horton where their focus is very much offense?  Or do we see a more stay at home defenseman like Busillo, or perhaps a mountain of a player like Yevenko?  Does Mick try to balance the defensive corps in terms of offensive and defensive oriented?  At forward adding Plevy and Keats to the likes of Vatrano, Pigozzi, Iacobellis, Lee, and Kravchenko could make this a very scary team offensively for Hockey East opponents.  The third and fourth spots at forward could likely be filled with more grinder type players for the third and fourth lines.  Or maybe there’s another scorer that assistants Ryan Miller and Joey Gasparini have an eye on that will allow UMass to roll three deep for scoring lines.  I feel very confident in UMass’ offense when thinking beyond this year.  But will there be someone on the other end to keep the puck out of the UMass net?  That is the huge question mark for 2015 currently.

(edit: UMass addressed a major question mark with this recruiting class with the commitment of goalie Nic Renyard for next year)

Speaking of recruiting, it’s rare to hear future Minutemen discussed on the weekly coach’s show, mostly due to NCAA rules that prohibit talk of a commit before they sign their NLI.  However last night assistant Ryan Miller talked to Brock Hines about Brandon Montour, Plevy, Keats, and Ty Pelton-Byce who’s projected to come to UMass in 2016.

2017 commit and Springfield Cathedral forward John Leonard was named to Masslive’s State Super 7.  Cathedral appears to be loaded this year and could make a serious run at the Super 8 championship.

Triangle era player Sal Manganaro will be making his high school coaching debut this season for Nauset.

Frank Vatrano is featured on the most recent UMass Sports Insider (18 minutes in), giving fans a tour of his nearby hometown, East Longmeadow and nearby Springfield, including his family’s pizza joint across from the AIC campus.

Recruit Update: One Week ‘Til Montour

Here’s the latest update on UMass’ recruits.  I plan on writing an in-depth look at next year’s class in the next day or two.  So I recommend checking back for that.

Brandon Montour – D – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) – T-Minus One Week
17 GP /6 G / 15 A / 21 Pts / 30 PIM /-11
Montour is on campus preparing to hopefully make his Massachusetts hockey debut next Tuesday against Northeastern

Brandon Egli – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2015
20 GP / 0 G /5 A / 5 Pts / 19 PIM
Egli was scoreless this week.

Jake McCarthy – D – South Shore Kings (USPHL) – 2015 or 2016
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts / 0 PIM
McCarthy is still nursing an injury that is delaying his debut for the Kings.

Kurt Keats – C – Powell River Kings (BCHL) – 2015
28 GP / 22 G / 16 A / 38 Pts / 45 PIM
Keats had an assist in one game.  He spent the weekend at the Team Canada West selection camp.  I don’t believe the roster for the World Junior A Challenge has been announced yet, but Keats captained the team last year so he’s expected to make it.  The tournament starts next weekend.

Austin Plevy – C – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2015
31GP / 20 G /31 A / 51 Pts / 54PIM
Plevy had a couple assists in three games this past week.  Plevy is tops in the AJHL in points, 3rd in goals, 2nd in assists, 3rd in PPG.

Shane Bear – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
32GP / 1 G / 16 A / 17 Pts / 37 PIM
Bear had an assist in three games this past week.  He’s tied for 5th in the league for power play assists.  Like Keats, he too is waiting to see if he made the Team Canada West roster.

Troy Conzo – RW – Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) – 2016 or 2017
3 GP / 0 G / 0 A /0 Pts / 0 PIM / –2  Des Moines (USHL)
13 GP/ 2 G/ 2 A / 4 Pts / 4 PIM / +2 Wenatchee (NAHL)
Conzo had an assist this past week.

Kyler Nachtigall – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
32 GP / 9 G / 7 A / 16 Pts / 41 PIM
Nachtigall had a big week, scoring three goals in three games this past week.  He started the season a little slow but has really come on as of late.

Ty Pelton-Byce – C – Team Wisconsin U18 (Elite)/Madison Memorial (WI HS) – 2016
21 GP / 12 G / 12 A / 24 Pts / 8 PIM  Team Wisconsin U18
5 GP /5 G / 4 A / 4 Pts  Madison Memorial
Pelton-Byce had two goals and two assists in a recent 5-0 win for the Spartans.  He’s tied for first in the Big Eight conference for goals and fourth in points.

John Leonard – F – Springfield Rifles (Mass Selects)/Springfield Cathedral (MA HS) – 2017
14 GP / 21 G / 11 A / 32 Pts  Springfield Rifles
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Springfield Cathedral
Cathedral’s season starts December 13th.  Here is a season preview from Masslive.

Staying on the topic of recruiting, I caught this article today on how well former UMass commit Alex DeBrincat has been doing in the OHL.  DeBrincat plays on a line with Connor McDavid, who is battling Boston University’s Jack Eichel to be the top pick in next year’s NHL draft.  Reading the article got me interested in what exactly happened to lead DeBrincat to renege on UMass.  So I found this article where he says he had always preferred the OHL route but committed to UMass because of his parents.  Hey, there are two routes to the pros and it’s better the player chooses what’s best for him.

Former Collegian writer Joe Meloni discusses UMass’ lack of success this season and under Coach Micheletto in general in his weekly Hockey East piece for College Hockey News.  Nothing groundbreaking, but it is another piece of evidence that shows that public opinion is quickly turning on Mick.  Again, as I wrote Saturday, I think it’s time for him to be a more flexible with his style of play to try to get the team winning soon.  I’ll probably have more to talk about the current overall situation with the team after next week’s Northeastern game.

College Hockey News also has this look at Air Force who the Minutemen play on the 29th of this month up at the Catamount Cup in Burlington.

Here’s an interesting look at the Mullins Center going from Hockey to Hoops to Hockey and back to Hoops this past weekend.

No real news in our McGaucheon Watch but there is this football focused column by Masslive’s Ron Chimelis on the subject.

Around Hockey East, Polls, & Awards

A week after squandering their spot atop the USCHO rankings by going 1-2-0 the Boston University Terriers did better this past weekend, grabbing three points in a home and home with the Warriors of Merrimack.  Meanwhlie, Lowell played a couple games at home and won both of them, first clubbing UConn 6-4 in a mid-week affair and then beating the Maine Black Bears in a surprisingly narrow 3-2 overtime victory.  While goaltending performance at Lowell has a lot to do with the defensemen and system under coach Norm Bazin, it’s worth mentioning that former Minuteman Kevin Boyle has one of the top winning percentages in the league with a 7-1-3 record so far for the River Hawks.  The Vermont Catamounts had the a weekend off and this Saturday will face Saint Lawrence.

Providence and Northeastern split an odd Wednesday-Saturday home and home this past week, despite Friar goaltender Jon Gilles only giving up three goals total in the two games.  Boston College took three points from New Hampshire, even though the Eagles continuing to struggle on the power play this season.  BC has only scored six power play goals total this season with half of them coming at the Minutemen’s expense unfortunately.  In addition to their loss at Lowell, the UConn Huskies also lost earlier in the week 1-0 to the Brown Bears.  Since their big games where they took three points from BU and BC earlier this season the Huskies are just 1-4-2 since.

With those results BU and Lowell are atop the Hockey East standings, with the River Hawks having a game in hand on the Terriers.  Vermont is just one point behind.  There’s a logjam in the middle with just five points separating 4th and 8th place.  UMass remains in last place, with the three teams ahead of them all holding two or more games in hand on the Minutemen.  These standings will remain as is until January.  While there are some matches between Hockey East opponents coming up, they’re all non-conference tilts.

Conference     Overall
    GP W-L-T   PTS GF-GA     GP W-L-T GF-GA
1 Boston University 10 7-1-2   16 38-19     15 10-3-2 49-28
  Mass.-Lowell 9 7-0-2   16 37-16     16 10-3-3 60-42
3 Vermont 11 7-3-1   15 37-20     15 11-3-1 52-25
4 Providence 10 6-4-0   12 18-13     15 8-6-1 30-27
5 Notre Dame 8 4-2-2   10 23-20     18 8-8-2 53-50
6 Boston College 9 4-4-1   9 24-21     16 8-7-1 47-42
  Merrimack 9 4-4-1   9 19-18     17 10-5-2 44-32
8 Northeastern 10 3-6-1   7 20-34     15 4-10-1 28-49
9 Connecticut 7 2-4-1   5 15-20     15 3-8-4 26-38
10 Maine 8 2-6-0   4 19-28     16 3-12-1 34-58
11 New Hampshire 7 1-5-1   3 12-22     14 4-9-1 34-38
12 Massachusetts 10 1-9-0   2 22-53     15 4-11-0 40-67

North Dakota is still #1 in this week’s USCHO rankings.   With their win and tie against Merrimack, BU moves up a spot to #2.  Lowell dropped to #8 despite winning both their games this past weekend.  Vermont didn’t play a game but moves into the top ten at #10.  Lots of Hockey East representation at the bottom of the rankings with BC at #16, Providence at #18, and Merrimack at #19.

USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll

December 08, 2014

Team (First Place Votes) Record Points Last Poll
1 North Dakota (38) 12- 3-2 983 1
2 Boston University ( 1) 10- 3-2 900 3
3 Minnesota State ( 1) 12- 4-0 818 2
4 Michigan Tech ( 1) 12- 2-0 784 5
5 Harvard ( 6) 9- 1-2 752 9
6 Miami 11- 5-0 743 4
7 Minnesota 9- 4-1 715 6
8 Massachusetts-Lowell 10- 3-3 707 7
9 Minnesota-Duluth ( 3) 11- 5-0 677 8
10 Vermont 11- 3-1 548 11
11 Denver 9- 4-0 478 10
12 Nebraska-Omaha 8- 4-2 435 12
13 Bowling Green 11- 3-2 419 14
14 Colgate 9- 5-1 377 13
15 Quinnipiac 10- 5-1 256 15
16 Boston College 8- 7-1 177 17
17 Robert Morris 10- 1-3 170 20
18 Providence 8- 6-1 161 16
19 Merrimack 10- 5-2 138 18
20 Union 9- 6-1 66 NR
Others receiving votes: Penn State 56, Northern Michigan 51, Yale 29, St. Cloud State 28, Michigan 18, St. Lawrence 7, Ferris State 3, Dartmouth 2, Holy Cross 1, Mercyhurst 1.

 

It’s also probably time to start looking at Pairwise Rankings.  Well, not for UMass’ purposes of course.  Here are the Top 20 currently in the Pairwise.

Rk Team PCWs RPI Rk QWB-† W-L-T Win % Wgtd Win % – ‡
1 Minnesota State 58 .6328 1 .0150 12-4-0 .7500 .7561
2 Minnesota-Duluth 57 .6113 2 .0128 11-5-0 .6875 .6747
3 Nebraska-Omaha 56 .6090 3 .0092 8-4-2 .6429 .6757
4 Harvard 55 .6075 4 .0050 9-1-2 .8333 .8333
5 Michigan Tech 54 .5993 5 .0000 12-2-0 .8571 .8421
6 Miami 53 .5981 6 .0105 11-5-0 .6875 .6757
7 North Dakota 52 .5893 7 .0049 12-3-2 .7647 .7442
8 Bowling Green 51 .5889 8 .0042 11-3-2 .7500 .7619
9 Minnesota 50 .5795 9 .0031 9-4-1 .6786 .6923
10 Vermont 49 .5794 10 .0000 11-3-1 .7667 .8082
11 Boston University 47 .5786 11 .0021 10-3-2 .7333 .7237
12 Denver 47 .5627 12 .0040 9-4-0 .6923 .6667
13 Mass.-Lowell 46 .5581 13 .0013 10-3-3 .7188 .6835
14 Yale 45 .5548 14 .0061 6-3-2 .6364 .6228
15 Merrimack 44 .5495 15 .0007 10-5-2 .6471 .6429
16 Penn State 43 .5463 16 .0017 9-4-2 .6667 .6831
17 Quinnipiac 42 .5429 17 .0014 10-5-1 .6562 .6329
18 Colgate 41 .5419 18 .0003 9-5-1 .6333 .6301
19 St. Lawrence 40 .5354 19 .0040 8-6-1 .5667 .5823
20 Dartmouth 40 .5337 20 .0052 5-4-1 .5500 .5510
50 Massachusetts 9 .4319 50 .0006 4-11-0 .2667 .2821

 

As you can see Hockey East is currently in line to get four teams in, but their spots in the top 16 are shaky at best.

BU’s Danny O’Regan was able to outshine teammate Jack Eichel’s four assist performance on Saturday with a hat trick and an assist, capturing Hockey East Player of the Week honors with his actions.  Notre Dame’s Robbie Russo, who I was very impressed with in the games against the Minutemen, grabbed the Defensive Player of the Week honors with his two goal, three assist performance in Amherst.  Lowell’s Michael Louria was named Rookie of the Week.

Do you like Power Rankings?  Well here’s one from SBN College Hockey and another from Scott McLaughlin at WEEI.  I think you can probably guess where UMass falls in both of them.

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